[By Sudarshana Banerjee]

It was a matter of time before Google launched its own cloud service. After all, Gmail is mail in the cloud. Google Apps is more mail in the cloud, along with calendar, documents, and so on and so forth. Google Docs is text and spreadsheets on the cloud. Google Picasa is pictures in the cloud. You get the drift. And so finally, Google Cloud err Drive is here.

The best thing you may like about Google Drive is the price. Google is offering free 5GB of storage to users. If you want five times that much, Google Drive charges $2.49 a month for 25 GB storage, plus you will get free Gmail storage upgrade. Want 100 GB? Thats $4.99 a month. 200 GB? $9.99. The storage in Drive you can get, keeps going up in increments, and you can get upto 16 TB for $799.99 a month. Now lets look at say, Dropbox. Dropbox offers free 2 GB of space. Its Pro 50 plan offers 50GB storage at a monthly $9.99 ($99 a year).

You can install Drive on your Mac or PC and can download the Drive app to your Android phone or tablet. Google says its “also working hard on a Drive app for your iOS devices” (Ahem). Drive is open platform, and Google is working with third-party developers so you can do things like send faxes, edit videos and create website mockups directly from Drive. Regardless of platform, blind users can access Drive with a screen reader.

Drive can also recognize text in scanned documents using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. Let’s say you upload a scanned image of an old newspaper clipping. You can search for a word from the text of the actual article. Google is also using Google Goggles visual search; if you drag and drop photos from your Las Vegas trip into Drive, you can later search for [las vegas] and photos of you making merry will pop right up.

Can you get Google Drive right now? Alas, no. Instant gratification may not be possible. You may probably need to add yourself to a waiting list for access to Google Drive.

You can check your Google Drive access status at drive.google.com/start. When you have access, visit Google Drive on the web at drive.google.com and install the Google Drive for your Mac/PC application (English-only). You’ll also be able to download the Google Drive mobile app. You’ll get an error message if you try to download Google Drive for your Mac/PC when you don’t yet have access.

The launch announcement for Google Drive was made by Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for Chrome and Apps, who MG Siegler, general partner at Crunchfund, notes killed the Google Drive first time around (as mentioned by Steven Levy in his book In The Plex).

Sundar Pichai (SVP, Chrome & Apps, Google): Just like the Loch Ness Monster, you may have heard the rumors about Google Drive. It turns out, one of the two actually does exist.

Google Drive may well end up killing the other cloud stars, unless they start differentiating their services some other way. Cloud is becoming a commodity business, and that business is here to stay.

We have been dropping a lot of bytes in this story. Exactly how much storage is 16TB? Enough to store 500 books? A thousand? How about 10,000 books? Thats a good nice round figure. 10,000. Turns out, 16 TB can store more than that. Lot more. Just to give you a perspective, the entire Library of Congress is assumed to take up roughly 20 TB of space (On the ballpark that there are 20 million books and each book takes around 1 MB of space. Even though widely quoted as an yardstick, this assumption is not entirely true. for one, the number of books is not exactly 20 million, and not all books take up 1 MB of space. We are not even considering the audio content! But as a rough approximation of how much is that much of storage, there is no beating the Library of Congress!